Hanging Out With Horizons Unlimited

It was a pretty rainy ride to Cape Breton, to make sure I was there on time for the next day's boat. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

It seems like a small thing, when compared to all the larger-scale problems since COVID hit, but I’ve really, really missed adventure motorcycle rallies over the past two years. When I got the word that Newfoundland’s Horizons Unlimited Travelers Meeting was finally going ahead for 2022, I made the plan—I’d get there, no matter what it took.

As the summer passed on, it looked like that goal might be hard to achieve. Work deadlines piled up, and it seemed I’d be smart to stay home and focus on those. But I couldn’t help myself. In the weeks ahead of the event, I saw my friends announcing their plans for the HU event, and I knew I had to be there too. I loaded the bike up on a Tuesday morning, made a last-minute-ferry reservation, and was headed to The Rock on a mid-day crossing on Wednesday. It was time to finally get back into the mindset of serious moto travel.

British Columbia’s Grant and Susan Johnson, with the BMW they took around the world. These are the people (and the bike) that started it all. Photo: Horizons Unlimited

What’s Horizons Unlimited?

At this point, you might wonder what Horizons Unlimited actually is, and why I was in such a hurry to get there. I suppose the best answer is, read CMG’s 2019 write-up about HU, and the people behind it.

The short version is: Horizons Unlimited is an organization that spreads the gospel of overland travel, especially by motorcycle. It uses a forum to do this, as well as rallies spread around the world. These rallies feature speakers with experience in far-flung destinations, or technical skills, or other desirable knowledge about travel, motorcycles, blogging, vlogging—you get the idea.

Horizons Unlimited was founded by Canadians Grant and Susan Johnson while they were on a round-the-world trip. Unfortunately, they couldn’t be at the Newfoundland rally, but the pattern they’ve set out over the past 20 decades set the pace for the weekend.

Yeah, I went early to Newfoundland, and uh … showed up late to the rally. But I had some serious fun in between, exploring some new gravel routes. Photo: Zac Kurylyk
That’s a long stretch without fuel. It’s even longer if you take the side road over gravel to Buchans … Photo: Zac Kurylyk

But first, a few days of fun

The rally was scheduled for Friday-Monday, August 12-15, but I have a confession: I got there late. I rolled into the camp on Saturday morning because I’d decided to visit a couple of isolated outport communities before attending the rally. When faced with a choice of having my own adventure, or hearing about someone else’s, I’ll take the first option every time.

I didn’t regret my decision; I had three days of fantastic adventure, saw some places that you just don’t get to without a conscious choice and an effort. And I crossed off a bucket-list item that I’ve been working on for the past decade. But we don’t have time to tell that whole story—maybe it’s a tale for sometime this winter, when we’re all dreaming of adventure beyond the snowbanks.

Rolling into camp

Thankfully, after all that fun, the good people at Adventure Central Newfoundland had sprung for a room for me in Badger (the Sunny Motel, with convenient Chinese restaurant on-site, just the thing for a rider who hasn’t eaten a square meal all day!). I was able to get on the road early Saturday and head to the rally, cruising down the Trans-Canada with the most glorious sunrise in the sky. No matter how boring the super-slab is, a gorgeous sky makes it 100 percent better.

Unfortunately, the reason for that gorgeous sky was—smoke blowing in from forest fires in central Newfoundland. I felt fortunate that I’d been able to have any adventures in the woods at all, and even on the ride to Killdevil Camp, where the HU rally ran inside the boundaries of Gros Morne National Park, I managed to jam in some gravel road exploration, always scouting for new routes in Newfoundland!

When I started seeing bikes like this, I knew I was probably in the right place. Photo: Zac Kurylyk
A lot of bikes on-hand! Mostly adventure machines, but there was everything from big cruisers to sport tourers to Gold Wings and just about everything else you can imagine. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

When I arrived, occasional CMG contributor Tammy Perry was giving a presentation on her adventures in Cambodia, pre-COVID; that set up a day of presentations from riders who’d been around the world, done the thing, and were more than happy to share their experiences with others who were anxious to have their own adventure. The HU website says “Whether you’re a seasoned veteran with wisdom to share or a complete novice hungry for ideas and guidance, it doesn’t matter if you ride a motorcycle, a bicycle, or drive an expedition vehicle… Horizons Unlimited meetings are for everyone who dreams of adventure along the road less travelled.” And that was the theme for the weekend.

It wasn’t all tales from the road, either. James Gow, of the Old Guy on a Bike YouTube channel, shared his tips and tricks for shooting and editing his rides. Speaking of which see his quick perspective of the event below:

In case you didn’t notice, that’s pretty epic scenery! The Killdevil Camp is an absolutely gorgeous location, and frankly, I’m not sure you could find a much better facility for this sort of thing in eastern Canada (it is expensive, though, at $44 a night for tentsites).

Why I really went

But the scenery and the presentations weren’t the real highlight. The real highlight was the same as every other rally I’ve been to: Being around other riders.

It wasn’t a huge gathering; maybe 100 motorcyclist in attendance, max. But it felt just like rally life used to feel like, back in 2019 … even if the forest fire situation meant we couldn’t have a campfire. It turned out we didn’t need that anyway; as the day wound down, we had chairs in a circle, sharing stories about not just motorcycles—about everything. And, this winter, that’s what I’m going to remember the best.

Meeting time! You didn’t have to attend any meetings if you didn’t want to, and most attendees picked and chose which ones suited them and their interests best. Here, Old Man on a Bike shares some video tips. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Heading out

Unfortunately, time was tight, and when rain picked up Sunday, I realized it was time to get going; parental responsibilities don’t turn off just because there’s a rally on. I managed to get my tent dried out and packed, and was on the road by mid-afternoon, and on the MV Blue Puttees that night. Good thing, too; I wouldn’t have gotten a ferry the next day, thanks to backed-up boats.

At least I got a gorgeous sunset over the Long Range Mountains as I rode down to Port-Aux-Basques, which served as a sort of prophecy: No matter what other plans I make over the winter, no matter what other places I have to say, the unexplored roads I missed on this trip, the people I met at Horizons Unlimited, and the familiar scenery of Newfoundland’s western coast will almost certainly bring me back again next year.


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